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Mindwars’ Mike Alvord: “I am sick of the division among all of us. We are truly in an Us versus Them situation. I think the Pink Floyd song “Us and Them” says it all…”

Interview with Mike Alvord from Mindwars
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 13 September 2020, 9:14 PM

Hard deeper thoughts regarding what has been going on, fear of possible futuristic scenarios that may occur to the worldwide social order, all are relevant. However, perhaps it would be best to focus on how to make things better other than find the negativity element in everything. Of course, it is an effort, motivation in need, but perhaps one day someone would actually be able to influence upon that path. In light of the new Mindwards album, “The Fourth Turning”, Steinmetal had a long chat with leader Mike Alvord, ex-Holy Terror, about stepping out of negativity, philosophies, the new album and more…

Hello Mike, it is a pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing, considering what has been going on in the world?

Cheers! Thank you so much for having me for this interview. I’ve been well despite all the craziness. I’ve managed to stay busy with work and music, so there hasn’t been a lot of disruption in my life other than not being able to play live or go to shows. I hope you are doing equally as well.

Yep, here we are trying to settle into it, however, decisions are made on a daily basis, which is rather disturbing, it feels there is no actual plan

About what has been going on worldwide, some would call it madness, some would call it hoax and of course there is the majority that supports that there is an epidemic going on, and that it is not just the flu. What is your input on that?

Yeah, unfortunately there is so much misinformation and mistrust in the world, it is difficult to know what is true. I honestly do not like to thrust my opinions on others, but since you asked, I will get into a little of my philosophy.

I tend to focus on things I can control. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter if this worldwide pandemic is overblown or we are doing what should be done, or if it is some grand hoax. I can’t control it. What I can control are my actions. In Los Angeles, we are required to wear face coverings. Now, I have a pretty good understanding of infectious diseases, based on my university studies. So, I happen to believe we are protecting ourselves to a certain extent, but definitely protecting others too. However, it doesn’t really matter what I believe. If I am out and about and come into contact with someone, I find it respectful to have a mask on. I don’t know that person’s situation. They might have elderly parents they care for. They might have a compromised immune system. If wearing a mask helps protect them or at a minimum gives them a feeling of comfort, then why wouldn’t I wear one? It is not an infringement of my rights. It is a compassionate and respectful thing to do. Why focus on the negative of things around us. I follow a motto of “staying above the line”. Below the line is fear, suffering, hate, anger, etc. and above the line is peace, love, compassion, etc. I try to stay above the line.

I could go on and on complaining from both sides of the argument, but what will my complaining do? It will just further aggravate myself and also others, since there are many people on both sides of the argument. Don’t get me wrong, being disgusted with how our leaders handle things is a good thing, but the complaining further divides us and doesn’t solve anything. If people are truly angry no matter what side you fall on, get out and do something. Help small business owners and avoid supporting the multi-national corporations. Get active in politics to move forward issues you feel passionate about. The truth is, many of us are apathetic when it comes to politics. I get it because it seems like a rigged system and in some aspects it is, but the people can have the power if they act.

2020 has been for many people a cursed year, with the pandemic being the top of it all. Mindwars’ new album, “The Fourth Turning” is one of the many symbols, at least how I see it, that are alerting the public that freedoms are soon to be lost, Democracies slowly crumbling in order to fight an unseen enemy, politicians using the excuse to have their will be done. Is this where we are going?

This is a great question and I wish I knew the answer. I tend to write about what I see and experience in life. “The Fourth Turning” is a concept that I am intrigued by and to a certain extent believe. It is the theory that we live in generational cycles. Currently we are supposed to be in the Fourth Turning and probably nearing the end of it. However, I actually see signs of what are considered to be the First and Second Turnings. Strauss and Howe have an interesting perspective on American history and culture. Their writings do seem to be fairly accurate on a number of levels, but more than anything, I found it extremely interesting and it moved me to write about it.

As far as freedoms being lost and Democracies crumbling, we always need to be aware of what is happening around us. When I say aware, I really mean experience. To truly understand what is happening around us we need to experience life. If we tune in to the nightly news or focus on social media, it would lead some to believe the world is crumbling before our very eyes. It is what the media and the powerful want us to believe. Governments thrive when there is conflict and a lot of money is made by very few people when the world is at war or for that matter when our own country is in conflict. What I would really like to see is less attacking each other, less complaining, and more action!

What interested me in the title “The Fourth Turning” is that it is not just a number, a cool statement. What were the previous turnings over mankind? I guess that WWII was one of those turnings?

Yeah, according to Strauss and Howe, we began our last First Turning at the end of WWII. There was a sense of high after the last major crisis, which was WWII. The Second Turning is supposed to be represented by an Awakening. Strauss and Howe believe the Second Turning was the 60s – 80s where there was a new consciousness in America. I actually wrote a song called “The Fourth Turning” on our third album “Do Unto Others”. I had just read the book and was interested in the theory. When it came time to title our fourth album, we wanted to call it “The Awakening”, which is also the opening track on our album. Since Sacred Reich recently released an album called “Awakening”, we decided to use a different title. The working title was “Blood Red”, which is the ninth track on our album. We didn’t really like the title for the album, so after we finished recording, we figured we should decide on a title. We tossed around a bunch of suggestions and nothing stuck. When Roby (our drummer) threw out “The Fourth Turning”, we knew that was it. Because of everything going on in our world, because of the lyrical content of the album, and since it is our fourth album, “The Fourth Turning” seemed perfect.

Other than the pandemic, “The Fourth Turning” doesn’t really have to relate the current crisis, yet also state the affairs of the social decay. What eats you up inside when it comes to our modern day social order?

If you read my lyrics, you will see a lot of things related to current events. Songs like “The Awakening”, “Digital Dictatorship”, and “Marching off to War” have current event meanings for sure. There are also other songs with more subtle meanings and can be interpreted in a variety of ways I think. I try to allow the listener an opportunity to internalize and interpret a meaning for themselves.

What eats me up? I try not to focus on the negative. So, my mental state is mostly focused on my actions, being positive, and less on the outcomes. After all, it is really the only thing we can control. I am sick of the division among all of us. We are truly in an Us versus Them situation. I think the Pink Floyd song “Us and Them” says it all. The rich and powerful want this division too. It is what drives the world. There always needs to be an enemy. Without an enemy there are fewer ways to control the masses and reap the profits of war.

The musical prospect on display on “The Fourth Turning” is a maintaining of the band’s old school Thrash Metal delivery, ascertaining that fine mixture of Megadeth meets Slayer kind, pushing forward melodies, yet never letting go of the aggression to press the issues at hand. Nonetheless, there is always progress going on, in your opinion, how did Mindwars go forward from their previous effort?

We are really about reinventing and continuing the sound of old school thrash and speed metal. I am glad you hear elements of Megadeth and Slayer too. It’s not so much that these are influences of mine, which they are, but also, all of us from this 80s generation have similar influences like Sabbath, Deep Purple, Zeppelin, as well as all the punk bands from the late 70s and early 80s.

I hope we succeeded with our attempt of revitalizing the sounds of the past while at the same time providing a modern sound. With our first release “The Enemy Within” (2014), it was more like a demo for our band. I had written a lot of the material when my former band Holy Terror was still around in the late 80s. When Roby Vitari and I decided to put Mindwars together, this was the music that made up our first album. By the time our second album came out, we had the opportunity to play some live shows. You see, with Roby and our bassist Danny living in Italy and me in Los Angeles, it is very difficult to play shows or for that matter rehearse and write music.

When it came to writing and recording our second record, “Sworn to Secrecy”, there was improvement in the sound, since the mighty Bill Metoyer mixed and mastered it, but the style of music was very similar. We felt we took the next step with our 2018 release “Do Unto Others”, but we went for more of an old school analog sounding mix. There also was limited collaboration with the writing and recording of our first three albums compared to this time around. With The Fourth Turning, Roby had relocated to Southern California so he and I have been able to rehearse more and when we wrote The Fourth Turning, it was more of a collaboration. We also had a shift with our personnel. We had the opportunity to play a show in early 2019 and with Danny still in Italy, we either had to turn the show down or look for a fill in. I reached out to a friend of mine Rick Zaccaro and he filled in for the night. The show was a tremendous success. Rick being a trained bass player and Danny a guitarist who was just playing bass for us had a significant change to our sound. We spoke with Danny and he was excited to be able to play guitar and Rick was interested in joining us on bass. This transformation really helped with the sound of The Fourth Turning.

The last thing that I think really improved our sound with this album was the recording and mixing process. We were in the studio with each other during the recording. Roby and I bounced ideas off each other as well as the studio drum engineer. I think this really helped us dial in specific aspects of structure and arrangement of each song. We also hired Cris Copat of KK Studios in Italy. He is a bit younger than us and helped us with the more modern and aggressive sound.

With a vast number of Thrash Metal albums going out nowadays, mainly due to the easier possibilities for bands to release albums, what would you say are the key features that makes “The Fourth Turning” a different kind of pill to swallow?

In some aspects, it’s great to have so much music and the possibility for anyone to create music. At the same time, it does get a bit exhausting and it is sometimes difficult to find the true gems amongst the vast amount of music. I hope people think Mindwars and “The Fourth Turning” is one of those gems. As you stated, it has various elements of the leaders in thrash (Megadeth and Slayer), but it also has tastes of other genres and flavors. There are a lot of dual guitar harmonies. This is something that might be key for those who are guitar junkies. There are fast songs, punky songs, and heavy mid-tempo songs. It also has what I like to consider thoughtful lyrics. Some people don’t care about the lyrics, but I have always tried to write meaningful lyrics to make people think.

When it comes to songwriting, would you say that there was a difference in the band’s approach of how to write the songs, arrangements etc.?

Much of our early material was older music I had written back in the late 80s and early 90s. There wasn’t much collaboration. By the time we got to our third album, Roby was at least in the States and we managed to work on “Do Unto Others” a little more collaboratively. However, we didn’t have much control over the mixing and mastering process, so the outcome, while we liked it, didn’t seem to have the punch and aggression we were looking for. I still think some of our best songs are on this album. “The Fourth Turning” was similar in the sense that I would crank out a ton of riffs, but it was different in the sense that we worked through the writing and arrangements of the songs more as a band. We were much more critical in choosing what material we would use and we pushed each other to come up with new ideas. We knew we wanted to have very heavy and powerful mid-tempo songs, but also maintain our thrash/speed style.

Throughout the writing sessions, recording process, even while listening to the final product, did you have any second thoughts, dilemmas regarding aspects of the music that should have been part of the album?

There are always second thoughts. To be honest, anytime you finish the entire process, you become tone deaf to the music. I must have heard these songs well over a thousand times. At some point you lose any sense of critical subjective comments. At the same time, you hear things that drive you nuts and would love to change, but most people would never notice.

I can honestly say I don’t think there are any filler songs on this album. Of course there are some songs I like and think are better than others, but to me they all deserve to be on the album. There are little things that bother me, but I think that is a good thing. If we are ever completely satisfied with our music, there would be very little incentive to try and improve.

Were there songs that didn’t make it to the cut of “The Fourth Turning”? If there are, is there a plan to unleash them upon the world in a sort of manner?

I think we had something like 13 songs when we were done writing. Since we ended up with 10 songs on the album, I guess there are 3 other things floating around. I don’t know if they are 3 complete songs, but there are definitely left over riffs. Will they ever make it to a future album…who knows. When I start recording riffs again they will be included in the process. Sometimes, riffs just end up disappearing and never make it into the recording studio.

“Digital Dictatorship” is certainly the album’s best song, other than being a Speed / Thrash Metal pleasure, vicious and untamed, its lyrical concept is troubling, even though it has been discussed for a while. Nonetheless, it is always relevant. How do you find the integration of the music’s intensity with the lyrical concept of the song?

Thanks for the kind words. This song is a clear tribute to my old band Holy Terror. The song has a similar musical structure to another song I wrote over 30 years ago called Judas Reward. In terms of the lyrical content, it is an unfortunate fact of life with our current digital age. With the advent of the internet and then social media, we are blindly offering up a lot of personal information through our digital footprint.

Does it matter? What is our data being used for? Should we be concerned? These are questions that should be asked and we should demand answers. Unfortunately, we are easily distracted and subdued through the next shiny object pushed in front of us. It is part of the system. The masses are given what they want while the people at the top just get more wealthy and powerful. China is implementing a credit system through surveillance. If you behave and follow the rules you get credits. If not, you get punished. Now, this is not currently happening in the countries that are considered democracies, but there are other ways our privacy is being jeopardized. In addition, when the media is viewed as favoring one side over the other, the public becomes more and more suspicious and a free press becomes pointless. A concern I have is when people use social media as a source of news. There are not the same controls put in place and there is not the same investigative journalism that happens.

“(Who’ll Stop The) Aryan Race” had me thinking, as it took me a while to understand if it was a history lesson or rather a view into a darker future, the Fourth Reich kind. With a somewhat Punk meets Thrash Metal attitude, what motivated you to write this song in the first place?

I actually added the “(Who’ll Stop The) at the last minute. I didn’t want people to think I was trying to support an Aryan society. The song actually was inspired by a series called The Man in the High Castle. It’s based on the Phillip K. Dick’s novel of the same name. When the pandemic was at its initial peak in March, I binge watched several series and this was one of them. So, this series really inspired the lyrics. As for the music, I have always liked punk. Old punk bands like FEAR, Black Flag, Wasted Youth, G.B.H, Discharge, Conflict, and others are always in my playlist rotation. Oh, and touring with D.R.I. back in the 80s, had a profound influence on my musical tastes.

I know that it is always a pleasure to cover Slayer, especially songs out of “Reign In Blood”, however, with everyone covering usually “Raining Blood” or “Angel Of Death”, what drew you to “Criminally Insane”, and I mean other than simply liking the song?

It was a fluke really. At the end of 2019, Roby saw a posting about a Slayer tribute project. He reached out to the people organizing it. They asked us what song and I immediately threw out “Epidemic”. I’m a big Hanneman fan and love that song. Unfortunately someone else grabbed it first. Looking back it would have been the perfect song. We then went to something a little older, “Chemical Warfare”. However, after I listened to it again, I remembered that it is a pretty long song and I wanted to do something short and to the point. We then, of course, looked back at “Reign in Blood”. “Criminally Insane” just stuck out to us. So, we recorded it within a week in January and sent it to the guys handling the tribute. When we reached out to Dissonance and told them we were in the recording process for our album, I asked if they were ok with us throwing in a Slayer cover…and there you have it.

“Black Death” is ever more true than before, in particular with the Covid-19, even though the effects of that early plague were far more dangerous that what we have been facing. What can you tell about the creation of this song?

This was another song (lyrically) that was inspired by our current situation. The music was written prior and I actually had different lyrics, but wasn’t thrilled with them. When the “lockdown” occurred here in the States and people were starting to freak out about the shutdown of the economy, wearing masks, etc., I started reading about the history of pandemics. I learned quite a bit and people of today are not reacting too differently then they did during other pandemics. I also found it interesting that some people were even politicizing it and calling it the “Chinese Flu”. Always hearing about the Spanish Flu, I just assumed that is where the pandemic of 1918 started. Well, little did I know. The name had to do with the fact that Spain was not involved in WWI and was the only country talking about the pandemic because the other countries did not want to scare their population and risk losing people not wanting to join the war.

While things are currently without any promising horizon, other than a vaccine, which everyone is waiting for, how is Mindwars making the effort to promote its new album?

We are really focusing on social media at the moment. I know this what most bands do, but like you said, there is little else. We are going to hold some live events too. We will be hosting a live album premiere listening party and some live play through videos.

What is your opinion on the common phenomenon nowadays of live stream shows? Is it a sign of life by the bands or simply understanding that the future is grim when it comes to live shows?

Well, we need to be creative. I love how some businesses are doing very unique things to bring back customers. Instead of fighting the system and the rules, some are becoming incredibly creative. I think bands are doing the same thing. A lot of musicians are creating live videos and asking for donations if you are enjoying them. Some are streaming live at home events. I also like the idea of drive up concerts. Whatever we can do to help keep music alive the better. To many, music is a way for them to escape the doldrums of their lives, or to create their own fantasies. If providing people an outlet and a sense of hope helps them get through all the craziness, then I think that is a good thing. If we all work together toward a common goal, the world would be a better place.

Mike, I wish to thank you deeply for your time for this interview. You raise questions without too many answers on “The Fourth Turning”, with an outcome for the world that with hope would be avoided. Thank you sir!

Thank you so much for doing your part to keep metal alive. Thanks to your readers as well. I hope people enjoy The Fourth Turning! Stay safe, stay sane, and stay metal! Speed Kills!


 



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